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You cannot expect rose catalogs to be better than any other commercial property or advertising copy. Deep down, no rosarian proprietor wants to sell a dog of a rose, but something deep within his soul prevents him from advising the public that ‘…this rose is a dog, but the kids need glasses’ or ‘buy this rose only if you want your gray house paint to match the foliage.’ And the pictures in magazines, slides in presentations, and the enthusiasm of early planters are not of much help either. For one thing, you know that no one opts for pictures or slides that emphasize ugly except in government sponsored art exhibits. Early planters are people who get the latest and trendiest roses before the rest of us; they tend to be exhibitors and we all know that exhibitors spray like unspayed animals.
Solution no. 1:
So it is not a bad idea to take a walk in the one of the public gardens featuring AARS roses. There are about 130 plus such gardens in the country and slightly more than a baker’s dozen here in California. None, however, is in Ventura County. You can drive north to the A. C. Postel Garden in Santa Barbara or you can go south to the International Rosarium at Descanso Gardens, or the Tourment of Roses Garden in Pasadena, or the Exposition Park Rose Garden among the half dozen or so in the Southern California metroplex. Of these, the largest in Los Angeles is reputedly the Exposition Park Rose Garden.
As opposed to single cultivars or a few rose bushes linked together in the recommended triangle of three, public gardens can provide a view of beds of 50 or more as a means of evaluating roses with a reasonable degree of sanity. And the questions can be personal.
Will Memorial Day provide a sufficient number of blooms without ruffled edges to reduce the risk of looking ragged in competition? Will the large blooms and heavy petal count cause the necks to sag in imitation of ‘Sweet Surrender?’ Will excessive heat turn
the color to pink rather than mauve? How do the roses stand up to a regimen of not being sprayed with petrochemicals? Will Day Breaker fade as ugly as Kaleidoscope? Will the luscious scent of Honey Perfume obscure the rather squat shape of the rose bush?
In order to arrive at the answers to these and other intriguing questions, I went with Kim Rupert, hybridzer, plantsman, and all around good guy, to view the roses at Exposition Park Rose Garden. The Exposition Park Rose Garden first found ideation almost a dozen years before its final completion in l928 when some 15, 793 roses were planted at its inception through the generosity of several Los Angeles nurseries, especially those of Fred Howard. (Does anyone else wonder about the job skills of the reporter who reputedly counted those rose bushes?)
Over the years the number of roses has varied, with the current number ranging from about seven thousand (according to Huell Howser and the current Exposition Park pamphlet) or twenty thousand (a former director of the Garden in l987), or possibly some number between sixteen and nineteen thousand (various contemporary websites). The number of different cultivars may vary from l45 to 200 depending on which source is being consulted. The sunken garden also features a central koi pond and fountain as well as four wood gazebos festooned with climbing roses and the illusion of cool in the middle of an open space. The walkways and lawn delineate the beds most of which are rectangular, but vary in shape and size with the approaches to the central fountain and the circular pond. Other instructive features include masses of pink hydrangeas along the southern and northern axes as well as ice cream vendors with modern pushcarts and deep freezes. The non-traditional LA Weekly has nominated the Exposition Park Rose Garden as the ‘Place to Watch the Smell of Roses’ and recommends a picnic blanket and a good book as essential to the experience but only in the mornings or afternoons when tourists have departed.
The most important thing is that the roses are planted in recognizable beds of as many as fifty roses or more thus massing the roses for better contemplation and evaluation. This possibility of evaluation was the original purpose of the Garden in its function as a public display garden. Namely, the ordinary rose grower was supposed to be able to view the garden in recognizable growing conditions and decide whether or not to purchase the particular rose for private enjoyment.
On a hot day in early July when the overnight fog is still combating with somewhat late but ominous Santa Ana desert winds, one thing is clear: none of the 2004 AARS roses have any scent worth talking about. Even the two roses touted for scent—Honey Perfume and Memorial Day—are almost totally devoid of fragrance unless you bury your nose right into the centers of the blooms and fake it. A comparison with typically fragrant roses like Secret or Mr. Lincoln verifies that fragrance is just not on the menu today in this garden.
The roses at Exposition Park do not appear to be sprayed with petrochemicals—as is the case with almost all public gardens these days; this decision is either one of devotion to the principles of Integrated Pest Management, or the fear of lawsuit liability for the ills of those utilizing the garden, or the powerful arguments of those against the use of these toxic agents by public facilities coupled with the even more powerful threat of public picketing. However, the rose beds are meticulously weeded and mulched. In fact, the gardens are closed to the public for the first ten weeks of the calendar year for replanting and renovation of the rose beds, removal of older less well performing roses, and the introduction of new AARS roses as appropriate.
Signage--the identification of the roses in the various beds is generally effective although there are a few anomalies. Kim identifies one bed of putative ‘Sterling Silver’ as more likely to be ‘Lagerfeld,’ by virtue of height, vigor, and color. A bed of roses called ‘Eden’ is actually ‘Abraham Darby.’ However, if you want to see a mass planting of a l979 Hybrid Tea, ‘Edwin T. Meredith,’ with coral pink flowers in an orange blend, look quickly since the rose is no longer in commerce; the same commercial unavailability is true of ‘Fireside,’ a 1977 rose that features red, yellow and white colors in imbricated petals surrounded by glossy dark foliage. An old favorite includes a l954 HT called ‘Roundelay,’ deeply fragrant, deeply dark red, tall as a leading man, and currently only available on the open market at three boutique mail order nurseries. Some identifying signs are missing (perhaps two or three), but no more than to be expected in an exposed urban area.
The seven acres of roses are bound by Exposition Blvd., the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County directly across Victory Walk, and State Drive. The entrance to the gardens is at 39th Street and Figueroa; parking costs six dollars. There are various restroom facilities studded about the 160 acres. It is wise to seek out those associated with buildings as those in the Rose Garden seem to be frequented by bipeds with a total inability to aim correctly through any aperture.
And the answers to the questions are: No. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. And Yes.
Solution No. 2: Find an early planter who doesn’t spray and still has the plants left.
And Kim thinks that Zary’s ‘Flirtatious’ is a ‘wow’ of a scented rose.
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